Concern over pollution of Pykara by Sterling Biotech

The results from studies conducted by the Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment (ATREE) as well as the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) have once again highlighted the continued pollution of Pykara River by a biotech company which manufactures gelatin and other products in Udhagamandalam.

The findings of the study were released to environmentalists and members of the Toda communities impacted by the pollution at the Keystone Foundation campus in Kotagiri on Tuesday.

Water samples collected from an effluent drain from the Sterling Biotech Limited, which drains into the Pykara Dam, show alarming levels of Total Dissolved Solids, chlorides, Biological Oxygen Demand (BOD), Chemical Oxygen Demand (COD) and ammonia, many times above the levels which are permitted by the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB). While the WWF samples were collected in May of 2015, and February of 2016 and 2017, Siddhartha Krishnan, a faculty at ATREE and a sociologist studying how pollution of rivers affects the poor and the marginalised in Chennai and the Nilgiris, collected samples in October and November of 2016.

The results from the samples from Mr. Krishnan, who started doing the study after the Todas approached them with a petition complaining of the pollution of the Pykara in 2016 too show that water being pumped into the Pykara is highly turbid, loaded with nitrates, phosphates, ammonia and suspended solids. The results also show that the water is acidic, and there are concerns that the polluted water is affecting the Toda residents.

K Vasamalli, a member of the Toda community, said that the Pykara and the Bhavani were revered by the Todas living in the Nilgiris. However, due to the continued pollution of the water bodies, the communities had stopped drinking water from the Pykara, she said.

Ruba Vathi, from Thavutkodu Mund, said that the polluted water in the Pykara was affecting the Toda buffalo and that there have been many deaths of the animals occurring along the Pykara, especially during the dry season when the animals have to graze near the Pykara dam and rely on it for water. She added that people were also suffering from respiratory illnesses.

Samuel Thomas, Co-ordinator, Western Ghats and Nilgiris Landscape Programme for the WWF, said that studies done on the impact of similar pollutants entering the Chalakudi River from another biotech company, Nitta Gelatin, have shown that both humans as well as biodiversity is affected by pollutants, and the researchers fear that similar impacts are already being felt along the Pykara , as well as by the wildlife in the Sigur plateau, where water from the Pykara flows into the Moyar River.

The Nilgiris district administration and the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board had ordered Sterling Biotech Limited to adopt measures to ensure that there was no discharge of effluents into the Pykara a few months ago. However, it is unclear whether a zero discharge system has been adopted by the company since the last meeting.

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